Every business is looking for the ‘slight edge’ to give them competitive advantage. But how about if I told you that you could become 15 % more productive by doing one small, low cost thing?
What if I also told you that doing the same thing would make your employees happier and more creative too? Would you put it into action immediately?
It’s true, and it’s backed up by plenty of research and science.
Dr Chris Knight from Exeter University and his fellow psychologists, who have been studying the issue for 10 years, concluded that employees were 15% more productive when “lean” workplaces were filled with just a few houseplants, as employees who actively engage with their surroundings are better workers.
The study says that offices devoid of natural elements and distractions are “the most toxic space” you can put a human into, and reports that workers perform better when household plants are added to workplaces.
Collaborating with academics from four universities in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands, Knight said he had wondered for years why the fashion for spartan offices has been so dominant in the business world. “If you put an ant into a ‘lean’ jam jar, or a gorilla in a zoo into a ‘lean’ cage – they’re miserable beasties,” he said. People in “lean” offices are no different, he added.
Essentially planting in the workplace makes you more productive because it connects you back to nature, this innate desire, which is hardwired into our DNA is called Biophilia. If you take a human out of ‘nature’ and put them in a clinical, space devoid of natural elements and colour and you will increase stress and anxiety levels.
Researchers extensively studied workplaces over an 18 month period, including a call centre in the Netherlands and a large City auditor in London to see how even a small number of plants could rapidly improve performance.
The City auditors, which Knight declined to name, had spent “a lot of money” on their office, he said. “They had very expensive desks … banners that were just to do with the company … it was a beautifully sparse environment.”
Yet when plants were brought into the offices (one plant per square metre), employee performance on memory retention and other basic tests improved substantially.
“What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk. If you are working in an environment where there’s something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better,” Knight said.
He hopes the project, the first of its kind carried out in functioning offices, will bury the lean office practice for which he said there was no scientific support.
Prof Alex Haslam, from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, who co-authored the study, added: “The ‘lean’ philosophy has been influential across a wide range of organisational domains. Our research questions this widespread conviction that less is more. Sometimes less is just less.